Refugee, at 14, shoulders the burden of running the show

February 10, 2010
Allison Clark - Medill

Few adults handle what teenage Pakistan refugee Ferozan Nazari does daily. Most her age play sports, see movies and rely on their parents. Life for Nazari is far more complicated.

“I do everything,” Nazari said. “I call my mom’s doctor, I pay the house rent, I applied for the Link card for my mom, I did the Social Security, I take my mom to the doctors. I go over there and translate for her.”

Nazari is the only member of her family who’s fluent in English, so she’s become the caretaker. Nazari’s mother, sister and brother fled from Pakistan to Chicago eight years ago after her sister’s husband threatened her family’s lives. Three brothers and one sister still live amid bomb blasts and village wars in Pakistan, leaving Nazari’s family distressed.

“My mom’s really scared something is going to happen to them,” Nazari said. “If a call doesn’t go through, she starts screaming at me and crying, 'What’s wrong, why aren’t they picking up the phone, something happened to them.' Then I get sad and start crying.”

Her father also lives in Pakistan with his other wife and kids, but Nazari said she never had a father figure.

“I never had a father’s love,” Nazari said. “He would always take care of his other kids.”

Although life is less violent in the U.S., taking care of her family has falling into Nazari’s hands. Even though she’s the youngest in her family, she’s responsible for bringing her ailing mother to her weekly doctor appointments. Despite her maturity, some doctors are reluctant to speak with her.

“The neurologist doesn’t take me seriously,” Nazari said. “He thinks that I’m a little kid and asks if he can speak to an adult. But my sister always says she’s too busy to come to my mom’s doctor appointment.”

Decades of trauma, domestic violence and illiteracy have prevented Nazari’s mother from passing the citizenship test. Gaining citizenship would enable her to apply for visas for her sons in Pakistan, so the family can be united. Ms. Nazari has depression and other mental illnesses said Sima Quraishi, executive director of the Muslim Women Resource Center in Rogers Park.

“She should not have to take the [citizenship] test because she has depression problems and other problems,” said Quraishi, who has provided various social services to Ms. Nazari. “Her doctor gave her a letter, but USCIC doesn’t accept them.”

This week Nazari’s mother will be taking her citizenship test again, but she’s not optimistic.

“Right now I’m not hopeful,” Nazari said. “I don’t even know what I’m going to do. We have run out of resources.”

Employees of immigrant and refugee organizations are also puzzled by Nazari’s citizenship case. Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said he’s never heard of a case quite like Nazari’s. Alec Malskiy who also works on Ms. Nazari’s citizenship case, said Kamila has various neurological problems and would not disclose further information.

“It breaks my heart because I don’t know what to do for her,” Sima Quraishi, executive director of Muslim Women Resource Center said.